ST. PETERSBURG — On Tuesday night, during a soft opening of Club Detroit for friends and VIPs, Jesse Kage stood on the venue's revamped stage and raised a Bud Light to owner Jeff Knight in the balcony.
"Make some noise for Jeffrey, who made my dreams come true!" said the 98 Rock DJ, a partner in the revamped venue. "Club Detroit. Who'd have thought?"
When Knight, a cable and telecommunications entrepreneur, took control of Jannus Live in 2009, he and his partners aimed to turn the old Detroit Hotel block into a new nightlife hub in St. Petersburg, stretching from the Garden on Central all the way to the Bishop Tavern and Lounge on First Avenue N.
Club Detroit, which officially opens Thursday with a concert by metal band Maylene and the Sons of Disaster, is the last big link in that chain. Formerly Vintage Ultra Lounge, the long, narrow club bordering Second Avenue N will once again host live music, marking both a return to form for the venue and St. Pete's best glimpse yet at Knight's ultimate vision for the block.
"There was no doubt that we wanted to create an entertainment district," Knight said. "In order to make this a place where everybody feels safe to come, we've got to invest and take all those dead spaces and turn them into something viable. That was definitely the master plan from Day 1."
Fans should know: This won't be quite the same Club Detroit that from 1981 to 1995 attracted headlining artists like Stone Temple Pilots, Warren Zevon and the Offspring. For now, the club is promising rock bands every Thursday, with DJs on Friday and Saturday. By the end of May, Knight said he hopes to launch a Sunday "Nashville night" for singer-songwriters and Americana artists.
Kage, who as a teenager in West Palm Beach used to drive across the state to see shows at the old Club Detroit, is leading the Thursday-night charge. He's planning to bring in some national acts — like Fozzy, a metal band fronted by pro wrestler Chris Jericho, on May 9 — but he also wants lesser-known artists to think of it as "the club that gave you a shot."
"Downtown St. Petersburg is a thriving community of new music," Kage said. "We're just another cog in that machine that can give bands something just a little bit extra."
As he did with Jannus Live, Knight overhauled the club's interior while retaining its historic character. Adorning the brick walls are several pieces of polished stainless steel art by local artist Mark Renda, including hand-cut portraits of Nirvana, Snoop Dogg, Joan Jett and the Beastie Boys. Both bathrooms are pristine, with the ladies' room boasting seven stalls, glimmering blue vessel sinks and an antique 9- by 7-foot mirror dominating one wall.
A large double door near the back opens into the Jannus Live courtyard so fans can pass from venue to venue, not unlike how Ybor City's Cuban Club operates during Tropical Heatwave. "Now we're going to be able to accommodate different genres of music all on the same night," Knight said. For example, as Maylene and the Sons of Disaster are playing on Thursday, reggae greats the Wailers will be on the big stage outside.
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It all fits in with Knight's belief that each business on the block should seamlessly interact with the Jannus Live courtyard. MacDinton's opens into the back of the complex, and food from the Kitchen is available throughout (Knight said Club Detroit patrons will be able to order from a late-night menu until 2 a.m.).
The block's makeover isn't done yet. Recently, Tampa's Yard of Ale announced plans to open an outpost in the former Bishop Tavern, west of MacDinton's, while a club called 260 First replaces the upstairs Bishop Lounge.
But with Club Detroit back in business, it's closer to finished than ever.
"I think we've remodeled 118,000 square feet in three years," he sighed with a laugh. "I am so done."